Thanks to the financial morass created by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits tax revenue the state can save for future projects; Amendment 23, which sets school funding requirements; and Gallagher, which limits property tax revenue, the state’s fiscal house is in continual disarray, no matter how strong the economy.
And because the three created a Gordian knot of regulations, the November ballot is full of initiatives designed to work around that mess to address unfunded needs from education to transportation.
And of two competing transportation initiatives, only one helps Colorado Springs, while the other, in the long run, could actually bring in fewer dollars than we’re spending now on local roads and bridges.
Let’s Go Colorado has the backing of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and economic development interests north of Monument Hill. It would increase the state sales tax .62 percent, from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent for 20 years, to bring in money for transportation projects. If passed, Proposition 110 would increase Springs sales taxes to 8.87 percent, the highest in the state. That’s because city residents voted three years ago to pass Issue 2C, which already has locals paying an extra .62 percent local sales tax (8.25 percent total) to fix city roads through 2020.
And while Colorado Springs would get some of the Proposition 110 money (40 percent of the increase would be split among cities and counties), it would be on the order of $18-$20 million a year, far less than the $50 million in 2C money we currently generate. The city couldn’t remain economically competitive with high sales taxes, and would likely not renew 2C in 2020. Less money equals fewer roads repaired.
Mayor John Suthers agrees, throwing his support behind the Fix Our Damn Roads initiative or Proposition 109. If passed, the state legislature would use existing state revenue to raise $3.5 billion in bonds for highway construction, without raising taxes.
With Proposition 109, both state and local roads get a much-needed facelift — and the Springs doesn’t lose out on economic development.
Neither plan is a perfect solution. Proposition 109 for example, leaves the state on the hook for repaying billions in bonds with no accompanying revenue increase. During an inevitable downturn, the state legislature would find itself in a precarious fiscal position with few good options, having to cut funds to Medicaid, education or other priorities to make the bond payments.
But here’s a thought: What if we actually address the underlying cause for the lack of funds at the state level — TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23? Then the state could plan for big projects without having to hack its way through the thicket of rules and requirements that actually harm Colorado’s long-term stability.
It’s wishful thinking. TABOR remains popular with most people in Colorado, so finding solutions to issues like transportation, education and workforce readiness will have to come to voters piecemeal — which, frankly, is what created this mess in the first place.
So in November, vote for Fix our Damn Roads, and consider how the state might prepare proactively without TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23.